Guest Post: The Duel of Ali ibn Abu Talib with Amru ibn Abd Wudd

Charles Cameron has been guest blogging here in a series on radical Islamism and terrorism. A former researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, his most recent essay, an analysis of the powerpoint presentation of Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan, appeared in the Small Wars Journal.

The Duel of Ali ibn Abu Talib with Amru ibn Abd Wudd:an old story of Muslim chivalry, told in refutation of today’s jihadists.

By Charles Cameron



Joseph Campbell was a comparative mythographer whose most celebrated book, *The Hero with a Thousand Faces*, famously provided George Lucas with the narrative stages found in the hero stories of the world’s cultures, and thus with the series of events that would forge a hero and Jedi warrior out of the raw material of young Luke Skywalker. In other books, he more than once tells the story of the samurai — a warrior with a precursor to the Jedi code — who was spat upon in battle:

His overlord had been killed, and his vow was, of course, absolute loyalty to this lord. And it was his duty now to kill the killer. Well, after considerable difficulties, he finally backs this fellow into a corner, and he is about to slay him with his *katana*, his sword, which is the symbol of his honor. And the chap in the corner is angry and terrified, and he spits on the samurai, who sheathes his sword and walks away. Now why did he do that? He did that because this action made him angry, and it would have been a personal act to have killed that man in anger, and that would have destroyed the whole event

It’s a powerful little nugget of a story, and in Campbell’s explanation of what was going on, we may even find a hint of where Lucas may have picked up the idea of the Force. Campbell writes:

This is a mythological attitude. You are acting not in terms of your individual, personal life but with the sense of yourself as the priest,so to say, of a cosmic power which is operating through you, which we all are in circumstances, and the problem is to balance yourself against that and have a personality at the same time

The thing is, Campbell may have been misremembering the source of his story. It’s true that such tales sometimes crop up in more than once culture, sometimes traveling the caravan routes from one place to another, or emerging perhaps, as Carl Jung suggests, from some dream logic deep in the heart of our humanity — but I have only seen thisstory told, and told repeatedly, within Islamic culture. It is in fact the story of the Duel of Ali ibn Abu Talib with Amru ibn Abd Wudd.





In the month of Shawwal 7 AH / 627 CE, the Muslims fought in the Battle of the Trench against a confederation of tribes at war with them. During the battle, Ali ibn Abu Talib encountered one of the chiefs of Quraysh, Amru ibn Abd Wudd, renowned for his bravery and strength, as well as his reputation as a formidable wrester within Arabia; he was said to be the equivalent of a thousand horseman. When he managed to traverse the Trench with a party of men, he challenged the Muslims to a duel of swords. Ali asked Prophet Muhammad to permit him to accept the challenge, but Prophet Muhammad refused his offer, simply stating that he was the formidable Amru. With no one accepting Amru’s taunts to duel, Ali’s insisted for permission to duel for the third time. This time, the Prophet accepted, and gave him the famed sword, Dhul-Fiqar, and supplicated for his success. Ali asked Amru to accept Islam, but he refused and preferred to fight Ali.


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